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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Poison Ivy

Every few weeks during the summer months, I go on poison ivy patrol, and I just went on another one this afternoon. What I do is arm myself with a jug of Ortho poison ivy killer and a pump sprayer, and walk around the backyard spraying all visible evidence of the dreaded three-leaved monster. Before you conjure up an image of Mr. Suburbanite pacing the back half of a quarter acre of manicured sod surrounded by 4’ cyclone fence, please note, my backyard isn’t a conventional yard. It’s actually a section of forest--our neighborhood is composed of houses tucked into forested lots, with trails winding among them. Living in a northern Virginia forest is quite agreeable in many ways, but it has a few downsides, and one of them is a preponderance of pesky wildlife such as poison ivy.

PI is a perennial, which means it will come back year after year in the same place if unmolested. It spreads through underground root channels, and also via seeds which are dropped in the fall, or eaten by animals and distributed in their droppings. It can be controlled via herbicides or physical removal, but it’s persistent - it will come back multiple times after it’s killed or removed from one spot. Meanwhile, the climate in northern VA is ideally suited to the growth and spread of this type of plant.

So keeping the yard of Bruck free of PI is not exactly like falling out of bed. Compounding the challenge are the diverse weeds and other ivies covering the forest floor, which tend to hide or otherwise obscure the nasty stuff. Add to that the fact that there are a few different strains of PI in the forest, and there are numerous “safe” plants that look similar to PI, such as wild strawberries and ash seedlings.

My goal is for my family and me to walk freely around our little section of the forest, along with any guests, without worry of contracting an irritating rash from the indigenous flora. So I have to be at least as persistent as the sultry green devil I’m fighting. Although it’s not easy to objectively measure, I feel like I’m making considerable progress - the big strongholds of PI in the yard are pretty much gone, and my last few patrols have found mainly scattered individual plants in random locations.

I also try to kill the evil herb in the areas adjacent to my property. The south and east edges of my property border common grounds (neighborhood walking trails), so I patrol those areas as well. Also, when I use the walking trails I occasionally bring along my jug of Ortho and kill the PI adjacent to the trail. The homeowners’ association probably wouldn’t approve of this, so that’s why I haven’t asked their permission.

It’s surprising that some people who’ve lived here a lot longer than I are oblivious to PI. My neighbor to the north has a fair amount of it in his front and back yards, and either doesn’t know or doesn’t care or both. I kill it as far as the pump sprayer will reach over the fence. I recently noticed a large outbreak of PI in the yard of my neighbor across the street; she was all too happy to have my son give it the Ortho treatment.

In the process of these poison ivy patrols, of course I actually risk, and occasionally suffer from, exposure to it. Last year I had an outbreak of it, which gave me great discomfort for several weeks. Since that time, I’ve been more careful, but have had a few more minor exposures to it, and get occasional, sporadic PI rashes. Today I killed some very mature PI bushes in the common area behind my yard, and I’m sure I came in contact with some of it. I see it as a worthy risk; I will probably never be completely free of it, but eventually I will get to the point where the occasional bloom of PI in the yard is the exception rather than the rule.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s column on the topic of the global war on terror.

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